Police arrest two Pakistani Christians for blasphemy after Muslim mob burns down churches

‘Pakistani authorities need no more evidence to see how dangerous the blasphemy laws are’

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 18 August 2023 17:04 BST
<p>Members of the Christian minority protest against sectarian violence</p>

Members of the Christian minority protest against sectarian violence

Two Christian Pakistani nationals were arrested on charges of blasphemy, days after a Muslim mob burnt down houses and churches over the alleged desecration of the Quran.

The suspects were arrested after pages of the holy book were allegedly found tainted with derogatory remarks written in red, the local police said.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the suspects are often lynched by outraged mobs.

The arrest comes after at least 20 churches were vandalised in the city of Jaranwala in the district of Faisalabad earlier this week, in one of the deadliest incidents carried out against religious minorities in the country.

At least two dozen homes belonging to Christian families were torched or badly damaged during the riots.

A Christian graveyard was also desecrated, residents and community leaders said, adding that the mob had dragged belongings from Christians’ houses and set them on fire in the streets in an attack that lasted for more than 10 hours without any police intervention.

The police, however, have denied the accusation, saying that security forces prevented the situation from becoming even worse.

Onlookers and media representatives gather along a street in a Christian neighbourhood, a day after the church buildings and houses were vandalised by protesters in Jaranwala

Paramilitary troops have been pressed into action to guard minority settlements following the arson attacks.

Local police said on Thursday that more than 140 individuals had been arrested during overnight raids in relation to the violence.

Caretaker prime minister Anwar Ul Haq Kakar said on Friday that minorities have to be protected at all costs, as he promised to take action against those involved in the violence.

“There won’t be any favour. There won’t be any fear,” he said in his first cabinet meeting, which was broadcast live.

Thousands of Muslims led by local clerics were seen carrying iron rods, sticks, knives and daggers during the rioting, local people said. It is reported that hundreds of Christians who fled the settlement have now begun to return to their homes.

Mohsin Naqvi, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab, said that the Friday sermons in mosques would focus on the rights of minorities.

“Amid challenging times, let’s emphasise that such incidents should not be coloured by religion. Interfaith harmony is among the basic teachings of Islam,” the chief minister wrote on Twitter/X.

The Punjabi government has vowed to restore all the vandalised churches and homes within the next three to four days, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The United States and rights groups have called on Pakistani authorities to ensure the protection of minorities.

“The vicious mob attacks are just the latest manifestation of the threat of vigilante violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“Pakistani authorities need no more evidence to see how dangerous the blasphemy laws are. The broad, vague and coercive nature of the blasphemy laws violates the human rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of expression.

“They have long been misused to target some of the most marginalised people in society.”

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